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The Phenomenon of Ekklesia: Part 1 of 2

Phe-nom-e-non 1. An observable fact or event. 2. An extraordinary person or thing or event. 3. An outward sign of the working of a law of nature (The Merriam- Webster Dictionary) Ekklesia 1. Assembly, as a regularly summoned political body. 2. Assemblage, gathering, meeting generally. 3. The congregation...

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“That You All Agree” (1 Cor.1:10): Discernment, Dialogue & Decision-Making in the Church: Part II

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 01-03-2012



It cannot be without significance that in both cases where Jesus used the term “church” (ekklesia), the concept of “binding/loosing” was connected to it (Matt.16:18; 18:17). John Yoder summarises some key aspects and implications of this ‘‘binding/loosing” function in the church:

Two aspects of meaning. (1) Forgiveness: to “bind” is to withhold fellowship, to ‘‘loose” is to forgive . . . . (2) Moral discernment: to “bind” is to enjoin, to forbid or make obligatory; to “loose” is to leave free, to permit . . . . Moral teaching and decision-making in Judaism took the form of rulings by the rabbis on problem cases brought to them, either ‘‘binding” or “loosing” depending on how they saw the Law applying to each case . . . .

By taking over these terms from established rabbinic usage, Jesus assigns to his disciples an authority to bind and loose previously claimed only by the great teachers in Israel . . . The promise of the presence of Christ “where two or three are gathered in my name” in the original context of Matt. 18:19-20 refers to the divinely authorised process of decision.

The word ekklesia itself does not refer to a specifically religious meeting, nor to a particular organisation: it rather means the “assembly,” the gathering of a people into a meeting for deliberation or for a public pronouncement . . . . The church is where, because there Jesus is confessed as Christ, people are empowered to speak to one another in God’s name . . . .

We understand more clearly and correctly the priority of the congregation when we study what it is that it is to do. It is only in the local face-to-face meeting, with brethren and sisters who know one another well, that this process can take place of which Jesus says that what has been decided stands decided in heaven . . . .

Thus the most complete framework in which to affirm the authority of Scripture is the context of its being read and applied by a believing brotherhood which uses its guidance to respond to concrete issues in the witness and obedience of this brotherhood  (“Binding & Loosing,” Concern #14, Feb., 1967, pp.2ff.; Cf. TDNT, IV, 336).

Some implications.

Elliot Johnson noted that “in order to reach unity we need some way to talk about our different interpretations and to evaluate these differences” (‘‘Author’s Intention & Biblical Interpretation,” ICBI, 1982, p.1). I propose that the “some way” we need is set forth in piecing together the ideas suggested in discernment, dialogue and decision-making.

Perhaps this can be illustrated by what has happened in the history of theology. Focusing on “systematic theology,” has there not been a great deal of system-defending polemics (resulting in polarization), and very little system-evaluating listening (resulting in dialogue toward discerning God’s mind)? Richard Gaffin, Jr., of Westminster Theological Seminary, points to a better way in the preface to his Th.D. dissertation:

“For this reason these conclusions ought to be given some circulation and put to the test among other Bible students. For my conviction also is that only when a consensus forms in Christ’s church can there be confidence that the Spirit has led into the truth.”

Is our basic need not unfolded in Rom.15:7,14? We need accepting attitudes in churches, and on that basis we can then speak the truth to each other in love. Vernard Eller summarises the Rom.15:7,14 perspective:   “Such an assembly will respect and maintain brotherhood with all sincere seekers of truth, though at the same time, they will see it as their Christian duty to point out what they feel to be the errors in the other’s thinking”  (Searching Together, Spring ‘83, p.14).

An accepting attitude based on the gospel is the key to producing an atmosphere of openness and non-intimidation where people can admonish one another, discern God’s will, and bind and loose together in unity.

If you are a discerning person, you are probably thinking:

“There is just one thing wrong with the biblical view of the Church which we have been sketching: it does not seem to exist. The definition is fine, but the phenomenon it describes is missing” (John Yoder, “A Light to All Nations,” Concern #9, March 1961, p.17).

The fact that we are so far from where we should be is a valid cause for concern. But the fact that these attitudes and perspectives are the obvious will of Christ by His Spirit must give us great confidence that they can be realised in our churches.

Written by Jon Zens

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